Stylish and slim life jackets?
Three young MBAs hope to profit from selling outerwear for boaters that isn't bulky.
By Anne Field, FSB contributor

NEW YORK (FORTUNE Small Business Magazine ) - COMPANY: Float Tech, Troy, N.Y.

CONCEPT: To manufacture and sell stylish boating outerwear equipped with a zip-in inflatable life jacket.

Betz (top) and Lobsinger offer an alternative to conventional life vests.
Betz (top) and Lobsinger offer an alternative to conventional life vests.

FOUNDERS: Cecilia Domingos, 28, CEO; Jeffrey Betz, 31, COO; Michael Lobsinger, 33, vice president, technology and operations.

INSPIRATION: For an MBA course at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the founders decided to develop a new life jacket. Domingos, a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve, knew that many mariners don't wear life jackets, mostly because of their bulk. When the trio discovered that just 22% of recreational boaters wear them, they saw an opening in the $500 million U.S. market.

STARTUP CAPITAL: They won $25,000 in the RPI business-plan competition in 2003 and raised $750,000 from local angels.

BIG MISTAKE: The founders first called their firm Orca Gear but changed it to Float Tech after the press confused the original name with that of an overseas wetsuit maker.

BIG BREAK: Last September, Float Tech got official Coast Guard approval for its vests, which will allow it to expand from the recreational market into the military and commercial arenas.

PROJECTED REVENUE: $1.2 million for 2006.

GRADE: B+. "I'm intrigued by the technology. They have a solid go-to market strategy, along with a team that has strong industry expertise," says Philip Bronner, a partner with Novak Biddle Venture Partners of Bethesda, Md., and a judge in FSB's business plan competition. "But the apparel industry is really tough."


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